Obesity is the result of a complex interplay of many factors including genes, metabolism, behavior, environment, and policy. Effective strategies for preventing and treating obesity must, therefore, encompass a broad program of research topics and disciplines. They also must use new and innovative approaches that foster the ability of investigators to conduct this important research. NCI strives to facilitate and accelerate progress in obesity research to improve public health.
Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Centers
The TREC initiative is studying obesity and cancer because existing research tells us that many cancers are linked with obesity. Scientists in the TREC initiative are conducting research to learn how the combined effects of obesity, poor diet, and low levels of physical activity increase cancer risk. They are also searching for effective ways to prevent obesity.
National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR)
NCCOR brings together the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the US Department of Agriculture to address the problem of childhood obesity in America. NCCOR's mission is to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and application of childhood obesity research and to halt—and reverse—the current childhood obesity trend through enhanced coordination. Childhood obesity requires concerted efforts to increase both healthy eating and physical activity in order to alter children’s daily energy balance. NCCOR is focusing on efforts that have the potential to benefit children, teens and their families, and the communities in which they live. A special emphasis is placed on the populations and communities in which obesity rates are highest and rising the fastest: African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, and children living in low-income communities.
NCI has been an active and central participant in NCCOR. Staff in NCI's Applied Research Program (ARP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences are participating in NCCOR priority projects and have led several of them.
- Development of a web-based (front-engine) registry of valid and reliable measures to assess independent, dependent and key moderating variables in childhood obesity prevention research. This tool is available.
- Development of an online catalogue of surveillance systems relevant to childhood obesity research, spanning the social ecological spectrum. The purpose of the catalogue is to raise researchers' awareness and use of existing surveillance systems relevant to childhood obesity. This tool is available.
- A conference series planning initiative. ARP staff led the organization of a webinar series on obesity policy evaluation effectiveness held in 2009.
A portolio of innovative “green health” activities has resulted from NCCOR’s collaboration with the sustainability-focused green design and building industries. Environmental design can influence children’s social norms and behaviors related to dietary choices and daily physical activity.
Rachel Ballard-Barbash, MD, MPH, Associate Director of NCI’s Applied Research Program (ARP), is the NIH representative to the NCCOR Steering Committee.
National Fruit & Vegetable Program - Fruits and Veggies – More Matters™ Initiative
In 2007, the 5 A Day For Better Health Program became the National Fruit and Vegetable Program and launched the Fruits & Veggies – More Matters™ initiative, a public-private partnership that is working collaboratively and synergistically to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables for improved public health. Fruits & Veggies – More Matters™ is a dynamic health initiative that consumers will see in stores, online, at home and on packaging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Produce for Better Health Foundation are leading this initiative.
Obesity Policy Research
The NCI Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch (RFMMB) supports various initiatives in obesity policy research. For example, RFMMB promotes research on diet and physical activity that may inform policymaking at local, state, or federal levels. A workshop was held in June, 2007 on considerations for an obesity policy research agenda. In 2012, a workshop was held for the principal investigators of active grants in this research arena to increase productivity and promote cross-fertilization among the grantees by identifying common issues, challenges, themes and opportunities for collaboration. RFMMB also supports initiatives pertaining to measurement of the food and physical activity environments. A workshop was held in November, 2007 to assess the state of the science of these environmental measures, examine knowledge gained from research using measurement instruments and methodologies, and define gaps and priorities for future work. Additional information about these initiatives, and related resources, are available on the website.
Genes, Environment, and Health Initiative (GEI)
The GEI is a NIH-wide project led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). The overarching goal of the GEI is to determine the etiology of common diseases by focusing on the interaction of genetic and environmental factors to better understand how these interactions contribute to health and disease. The genetic component is focused on genome-wide association studies and data analytic methods, while the other component examines exposure biology. The Exposure Biology Program of the GEI supports the development of improved measures and more objective methods to assess dietary intake and physical activity.
Health, Eating, Activity, and Lifestyle (HEAL) Study
Supported by NCI’s Applied Research Program (ARP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, this study is investigating how lifestyle factors such as weight and diet patterns, physical activity, and biomarker profiles affect breast cancer prognosis and survival. NCI is particularly interested in the interplay of these lifestyle factors because research suggests that women who are overweight, obese, or physically inactive have a poorer survival and increased breast cancer recurrence rate compared with lighter-weight and physically active women. Data were collected shortly after diagnosis as well as at two, five, and ten years post-diagnosis.
BMI, Body Fat Distribution, and Mortality Cohort Project
Supported by NCI’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, this research initiative is assessing the association of waist circumference with total and selected cause-specific (e.g., cardiovascular, cancer) mortality. A secondary analysis will assess hip circumference and waist-to-hip ratio. The project is using data on more than 650,000 participants from 11 cohorts in the BMI and Mortality and Physical Activity Pooling Projects.
Obesity and Fatal Prostate Cancer in the BMI Pooling Project
Supported by NCI’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, this research initiative is performing detailed evaluations of the relationship between BMI and wait-hip ratio and lethal prostate cancer. This large prospective analysis of obesity could provide critical information toward establishing whether obesity is related to lethal prostate cancer, as well as the dose-response relationship, the timing of exposure, and the role of central adiposity. The study will also assess whether the association is confounded or modified by smoking, physical activity, diabetes, and race.
Obesity and Rare Cancers in the BMI Pooling Project
Supported by NCI’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, this research project is evaluating the association between BMI and risks of thyroid, gallbladder, and head and neck cancers, drawing on data from existing cancer cohorts. This large prospective analysis could provide critical information toward establishing whether these cancers are related to obesity.
Physical Activity and Risk of Cancer in the Cohort Consortium
Supported by NCI’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program (EGRP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, this research is assessing the association between physical activity and individual cancer sites and overall cancer burden. It will also include hazard ratios for each cancer site studied to estimate the dose-response relationship between physical activity and cancers of the breast, endometrium, and colon and rare cancers that have not been adequately examined in prior physical activity studies.
Metabolomics of Energy Balance, Nutritional Status, and Cancer
A metabolic phenotype represents the collection of all metabolites within a biological system and it reflects the influence of both genetic and lifestyle factors. The goal of this study is to identify specific metabolites or metabolic profiles that canb e used as biomarkers for lifestyle-related exposures or as prospective markers for cancer risk.
Division of Cancer Epidemiology (DCEG) Studies of Energy Balance/Obesity and Cancer
Energy balance—the difference between dietary energy intake and energy expended through physical activity and resting metabolism—is thought to increase the risk of several important cancers. The high prevalence of obesity and physical inactivity is a worldwide public health issue, yet the mechanisms by which energy imbalance and obesity cause cancer remain unclear. The web site has links to a variety of DCEG cohort studies.